Fountain of Youth

It was actually the Display of Maturity.  Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park was just another practice round for winner and still undefeated Mohaymen.

Going in the gate there were three undefeated colts–Mohaymen, Zulu, and Awesome Banner, but the latter two couldn’t keep pace with Mohaymen.  Awesome Banner is a speedy colt and was in contention early, but he couldn’t extend that speed through the 1 1/16th-mile race; he faded to next to last at the wire.  Zulu gave it a noble try, but John Velazquez was already scrubbing and whipping as the horses came out of the turn for home to get him to the wire first.  In the meantime, Mohaymen was closing from just off the pace in cruise control with rider Junior Alvarado simply flagging his whip in a hand ride that ended up with him wrapping up the grey colt in the strides before the wire.

The race couldn’t have set up more perfectly for Mohaymen: race conditions, an undisturbed run to the wire, and not much need to expend a great deal of effort and energy to get the win.  And he picked up 50 prep race points to place him at the top of the list of contenders for the Kentucky Derby.  No muss, no fuss.  Best of all, post race, Alvarado said he feels Mohaymen is improving and getting stronger with each race.  On Sunday morning, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin indicated he came out of the race A-OK health wise.

So now it’s on to April 2, and an apparent early showdown with also undefeated West Coast representative Nyquist in the Florida Derby.  It will be the last prep for both colts and a very interesting and entertaining race.

This Saturday, prep action returns to Aqueduct for the Gotham Stakes.  The leading contender is Sunny Ridge, winner of the Withers Stakes also run at Aqueduct January 30.

Another exciting rivalry is also shaping up amongst the three year olds, but on the distaff side.  Songbird, Two-Year-Old and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly champion remains undefeated this year and now has potential competition from also undefeated Cathryn Sophia, winner in a romp, in Saturday’s Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.  I have them rated 1 and 1a on my list and if everything continues to go well, they will finally meet on the Friday before the Derby in the Kentucky Oaks.  Right now, that’s the race I am most looking forward to in the next few months.  Lots of three-year-old fun ahead!!






“The Graveyard of Champions.”

Today, American Pharoah will step foot on the Saratoga Racecourse track to face nine competitors and, in the process, attempt to put its long-standing reputation to rest for awhile.

Man O’ War lost his only race at Saratoga.  Secretariat lost, post-Triple Crown success, at Saratoga.  Triple Crown Champion Affirmed was disqualified from his win in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.  I’ve been watching the meet since it started in late July, and although I don’t have the stats, I’ve seen a lot of favorites, especially short-price favorites crash and burn at the track also known as The Spa.  My guesstimate is that the win rate has been 50-50, favorites to other horses in the respective fields.

So here are the basics.  Race 11, The Travers Stakes, contested at 1 1/4 miles. Post Time: 5:46 p.m. The field and my comments:

1.Upstart–Doesn’t want 1 1/8 miles let alone 1 1/4.

2.American Pharoah–Even Saratoga’s longstanding reputation will have a hard time stopping The Ruler.

3.Mid Ocean–Who?

4.Texas Red–The ONLY colt in this field that I think call pull an upset.  The son of Afleet Alex is coming back strong, and appears relentless like his sire.

5.Frammento–Not again.  Hasn’t been in the same zip code as many of these in previous matchups.

6.Frosted–The lost shoe could have been an issue in his second-place finish in the Jim Dandy.  Personally, I’m starting to doubt his desire/ability to get a mile and a quarter also.

7.Keen Ice–He’ll be coming at the end, but he’s lost his most effective rider, Kent Desoumeaux, to Texas Red.  Still Javier Castellano KNOWS how to ride ’em and for sure knows where the Saratoga wire is.

8.Tale of Verve–It ain’t raining today.

9. King of New York–Who again?

10.Smart Transition–Won the ungraded Curlin Stakes earlier in the meet.  Might break the top four; will not win.

Fifteen thousand people showed up early yesterday to watch American Pharoah take a gallop around the track.  By his appearance and the comments of his exercise rider he likes and is handling the surface well.  He looks as robust, fresh, and happy as he has at any point during this magical run.

Still…the reason for my superstitious rationale (how’s THAT for an oxymoron??!!) for a potential upset, what’s giving me cause for concern is the track’s reputation and the number of trips he’s made and miles he’s travelled just in August (let alone for his entire 2015 season to date).  It was just 27 days ago when he ran in and won the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth.  I’d feel more confident if he’d stayed on the East Coast between races as he did during his Triple Crown assault.

But hey, we’re talking American Pharoah here; why worry?  Just enjoy!  

Equal Billing

Time to talk about the three-year-old fillies.

The depth of potential talent doesn’t appear to be as great as on the colts’ side and unlike Untapable last year, who you were simply counting days and hoping she’d remain sound until she’d win the Kentucky Oaks, there is no clear cut or dominating filly to emerge as of today.  The logical place to start is with 2014’s winning Juvenile Fillies Breeders’ Cup and Two-Year-Old Filly Eclipse Award winner Take Charge Brandi.  Since her Breeders’ Cup win, she has raced and won repeatedly.  And this week, her owner Willis Horton, announced he was considering running her in the Rebel Stakes (Oaklawn Park’s second most important Derby prep race), March 7 instead of the Honeybee Stakes for three-year-old fillies on the Rebel undercard.

Good luck with that.  Take Charge Brandi is a fine filly and apparently training well, but she’s never shown me anything in her races that would make me think she’d be at all successful against the colts.  In her last victory, the one-mile Martha Washington, also at Oaklawn, she barely won over a small field of fillies she should have handily trounced.  And while they are still relatively unproven, this crop of three-year-old colts seems to be sitting on unlimited potential, chief among them American Pharoah, who is scheduled to ship in from Santa Anita and make the Rebel his 2015 season debut.  Prior to injury before the Breeders’ Cup, American Pharoah had easily defeated…Texas Red in the FrontRunner Stakes last fall.  And Texas Red then went on to air and then some in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winning by 13+ lengths.  Take Charge Brandi, who to her credit, led her Breeders’ Cup race almost from the gate and was tenacious at the end, won by a nose.  I will give Mr. Horton great credit in that he was forthright enough to indicate that taking a shot in the Rebel was as much a financial move as anything else.  I believe he said even a third place finish in the Rebel would bring home a bigger purse than a win in the Honeybee.  All things being and remaining equal, if Take Charge Brandi could win the Rebel over American Pharoah or one of the other colts contesting the Rebel, she’s some kind of filly and she’d solidify her role as the horse to beat for the Oaks, and I dare say somewhat throw the Derby futures in to some disarray!

It’s a bit of a tie in my mind as to the filly I’d rank second best en route to the Oaks.  I’m A Chatterbox and Condo Commando are almost one in the same for me at this point, although I think I’d give a slight edge to I’m A Chatterbox.  Chatterbox has impressively scored back to back wins at the Fair Grounds in the Silverbulletday and Rachel Alexandra Stakes.  She’s trained by Larry Jones and that is an advantage in and of itself (Eight Belles and 2011 Horse of the Year Harve de Grace. Sidenote: Last weekend was my first chance to see  Larry interviewed since a life-threatening fall he took while exercising a horse last summer and he looked and sounded great for which I, and I’m sure many others are grateful as he’s a fine horseman and sport ambassador).  I’m A Chatterbox looks like a filly that’s on the upswing and enjoying her work.

Condo Commander put on a commanding performance February 21 at Aqueduct in the Busher Stakes. In her season debut she took the lead early and never relinquished it to win by almost five lengths.  This was her first start in 2015 and she picked up where she left off in her last race in 2014, a victory in the Demoiselle Stakes.  My only knock/concern/question is both those victories came on tracks that I believe were in varying degrees of being off; let’s say just less than fast.  But I also recall her maiden win at Saratoga coming over a fast track, so this is a minor quibble for now.

A filly that has impressed me and that I’ll continue to watch w/interest is the Dale Romans’ trained Birdatthewire.  Her name about says it all as she’s a late-running filly that is flying from well off the pace as the wire approaches.  Last weekend she came up just short in the Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park to another tenacious runner that had led through most of the race, Ekati’s Phaeton.  Both fillies might be more natural milers (the distance of the Davona Dale), but being a daughter of a horse near and dear to my heart, 2009 Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes winner Summer Bird, I believe she can get the Oaks’ 1 1/16.  That extra half furlong might be just what she needs to snatch the victory!

Angela Renee and Puca, two fillies that showed promise in 2014 also ran last Saturday, both with fourth place finishes in the Rachel Alexandra and Davona Dale Stakes, respectively.

If the Kentucky Derby appears unclear and uncertain at this point, the Kentucky Oaks side is equally muddled.  Perhaps a new candidate or clear leader will emerge from today’s Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita Park.  We shall see.